The latest premiere of Sofia Theatre, ‘The bitter tears of Petra von Kant’ by Fassbinder, based on his famous play and film (1945–1982) from 1972, irrevocably stood out as one of the best events this theatre season. Plamen Markov makes an impressively up-to-date and perceptive reading of the script of the emblematic representative of the new German cinema from the 70s and 80s of the 20th century. In the dramatic story, the successful and completely engulfed in her artistic world as a modern designer, Petra von Kant, after two failed marriages, all of a sudden is obsessed by her love for a young woman determined to establish herself as a model. The director not only finely reveals Fassbinder’s specific spectrum of themes and questions about human relationships, but he also skillfully completes and develops it.
In the play of the German film reformer, the central problem (which is central to all of his works too), unfold with painful openness, is the problem about power as a defining force in the human relationships, which becomes extremely distinctive in love. According to Fassbinder, the human being is full of love desires, but the moment he finds love he immediately starts to impose his power over the other, instinctively aiming at control and domination. So, when Petra von Kant is filled with feeling towards Karin, she turns her into a personal creation. By fulfilling the desire of the young woman to become a model by dressing her up in her best new designer’s clothes, the designer actually treats her as her possession, which has embodied her deepest ideas, perceptions and desires. Having merged completely with her love object, Petra cannot let it go; she cannot accept its differences, individuality and freedom. Hence, this places her in the position of someone who is completely and painfully dependent on her beloved and at the same time tries to control and mould her. On the other hand, Karin also imposes her power over Petra von Kant. She charmingly agrees to be the moulding clay and the favourite toy in the hands of the designer, while she, with the decisive help of the designer, fulfils her ambition to become a famous model. By using the dependence of Petra, Karin unconsciously controls her by forcing her to accept her little betrayals and gradually to give her more and more in order to keep her by her side. Fassbinder focuses on the slow and painful erosion of this love, driven by the turns of power and domination, and of course it ends with the predictable moment of Karin leaving her.
In this performance, as already mentioned above, Plamen Markov reveals precisely the sad and perceptive insight of Fassbinder about human relationships and love. At the same time, looking closely (with the typical look of astute curiosity and disregard for the established boundaries) at the characters and the situations, created by the author, the director complements this insight with his own personal conclusions. While the main motif in Fassbinder’s text is the love relationship between the two women, the interpretation of Plamen Markov expands it to the concept of the unrequited/impossible love transformed into the drive for power and control over the other. In his stage interpretation the accent falls not only on the key problem of power in love relationships, but also on the equally important question about the use of power as a means for the achievement of pragmatic goals.
Liliya Maravilya performs one of her best roles recently as the complex and multi-layered character of Petra von Kant. The actress chooses a difficult, but very productive, path for its creation, on which she walks accurately and convincingly. Just with her first appearance on stage, she strikingly and brightly exposes the full profile of her character. We meet a successful and beautiful woman, surrounded by mannequins dressed in the designed by her new clothes from her new fashion collection and fully devoted to the latest alterations on them. One can sense confidence and high self-esteem mixed with fragility and vulnerability: she is powerful and does not accept objections by her subordinates, but she treats cruelly, without no obvious reason, her assistant Marlene (who is secretly in love with her), so she is also surprisingly insecure and neurotic. Liliya Maravilya keeps this whole image of her Pera von Kant throughout the whole performance and gradually with each scene she develops and deepens details from its features by revealing certain traits of the character and pushing back others. The actress centres her character interpretation around the realization that all important relationships in her life had fallen apart due to her unwillingness someone else to dominate, to manipulate or shape her.
She comes to this insight under the influence of her sufferings from the indifferent and unjustly cruel attitude of Karin towards her and her love feelings. Especially powerful and affective is Liliya Maravilya’s acting in the one but last scene when Petra von Kant realizes that what she had been running away from during her whole life, she herself is the reason for her new love. The more despairing and discouraging thing is though that it is not her inclination for forcing power and control the sole reason for the destruction of their relationship, but their application by the other as an instrument to accomplish pragmatic goals.
A very accurate and plastic in the part of the indifferent and also astute Karin performs Lidiya Vasileva. A frugal and internally dynamic character is performed by Milena Zhivkova as Valerie, the mother of Petra von Kant. A memorable and built with a flair to the details is the performance of Lora Mutisheva (Sidonia von Grozenab); Neda Spasova (Marlene) and Joanna-Isabella Varbanova ( the daughter of Petra von Kant).
The scenographic decision of Marina Raychinova has especially significant meaning both for the full vision of the performance and for the maximum accomplishment of the director’s concept and the actors’ play. More than ever, the set carries the bold impetus and the bright contemporary expressiveness, typical of the artist. Following the author’s instructions, she puts a huge artistic bed in the middle of the stage, but she also adds podiums at three of the bed sides in the shape of ‘n’, over which plastic mannequins are placed, dressed in designed by Petra von Kant robes, or live models walk on them. At the bottom of the stage, a screen with a constantly running video of the designer house brand and the face of the beloved Petra Karin, replaced by Marlene in the end, is fitted. Almost all of the episodes happen in the bed or around it. A special accent in the spatial decision of Marina Raychinova are the costumes – just like the ones prepared for the fashion collection and which the models wear while they catwalk and most predominantly the clothes of Petra von Kant and Karin, which in a similar manner reveal their inner tensions and conflicts and the limitations and hinders in their relationship.
As usual, Marina Raychinova’s creative lightning finishes with a complete outside view of a shiny and illusionary world of success and power, whose brief moments of cracking up reveal the sad face of failed desire and human loneliness.
‘The bitter tears of Petra von Kant’
By Reiner Werner Fassbinder
Director: Plamen Mrakov; translation: Vladko Murdarov; artist: Marina Raychinova; video: Dimiter Sardzhev; ass. scenographers: Michaela Mihaylova, Maria Koleva and Hristina Hristova; ass. director: Bogdan Dimitrov, composer: Kalin NIkolov; acting cast: Liliya Maravilya; Milena Zhivkova; Joanna-Isabella Varbanova; Neda Spasova; Lidiya Vasileva; Lora Mutisheva and the students from Plamen Markov’s class: Maria Genova; Gergana Spiridonova; Simona Dzhurova; Lyuboslava Marinova; Katrin Todorova.
Sofia Theatre, premiere – 04 April 2022
The article is co-published in the ‘Literary journal’ (№ 16, 2022)